Citing a new study showing banks charge higher fees than credit unions, advocates for these nonprofit depositories urged Congress Tuesday to fight restrictions on their membership enrollments.

"It's good public policy to provide an alternative to banks, which are focused on providing the highest return to their shareholders," said Daniel A. Mica, president of the Credit Union National Association, which co- sponsored the study along with the Consumer Federation of America.

The study found that banks are more likely than credit unions to charge fees on checking accounts, credit cards, cashier's checks, and other services.

Among institutions that levy fees, credit unions are still cheaper, they said. For instance, fees on economy checking accounts average $3.69 a month at banks but $3.11 at credit unions. For credit cards, banks charge an average of $16.69 in annual fees, while credit unions charge $11.61.

One exception: Credit unions are more likely to charge their account holders for using automated teller machines. Only 7% of banks charge customers for using their banks' ATMs, but 22% of credit unions charge a fee. Banks are more likely to charge noncustomers for using their machines, however.

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